CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah is sitting on a stool in the back room of a shoe store, and he’s getting deep.
“Sometimes, you think you know,” he said. “But you don’t know the whole story.”
Oh, to know the whole story of the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls. Not the front office’s story, not Tom Thibodeau’s story, not the players’ story, but the whole thing -- from every side. A story of distrust, hurt feelings, hurt body parts, tension, turmoil and another LeBron James-led sendoff to the summer.
But alas, Noah isn’t too interested in delving into the past -- not for public consumption, anyway. He’s all about "his moment," he said, and living in the now. That quote is about the movie "Straight Outta Compton," which he had seen earlier in the day. He loved it and said he learned a lot about the West Coast rap supergroup.
“I didn’t know NWA too well,” he said after an Adidas appearance in conjunction with his Noah's Arc Foundation. “I used to listen to 'The Chronic' and 'Doggystyle.' My mom bought those for me when I was in third grade living in Paris. Those albums just came out, and she gave them to me. I had no idea about those lyrics or what they were talking about. I could just feel the energy, and I loved it.”
You can picture a 9-year-old, French-speaking Noah rapping “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang.”
Noah said he was impressed by the career longevity of NWA alumni Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. At 30, the Bulls big man is looking to add another chapter to his own story.
Noah’s star dimmed the past season, one year after he garnered MVP votes and was named the NBA’s defensive player of the year. After knee surgery the previous summer, he never found his way back to form. He limped around the court, futilely chasing both opposing power forwards and his past.
Noah, who will be a free agent after this season, knows what people were saying: that he’s done being Joakim Noah, All-Star. His response to those thoughts is mostly unprintable.
But one gets the sense Noah isn’t kidding when he talks about being “ready to rumble.” When he gets the ball on the baseline and dunks with authority for the first time, you will hear it.
“I’m hungry right now,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about it too much, but the way last year played out and how I felt like I really struggled, I just want to be as right as possible, just for the team.”
Well, not just for the team. He wants it for himself too. Noah is a man of the world, a free spirit with a home in Hawaii, a house on his family land in Cameroon, crash pads everywhere.
He is also a charitable man. He was at a downtown Foot Locker on Monday to take kids from his foundation back-to-school shopping, and he clearly enjoyed it. He is very active in anti-violence campaigns, particularly his “Rock Your Drop” initiative. Noah goes to hardscrabble pockets of the city of Chicago to listen -- not to preach.
But he’s also a basketball player, and yeah, Noah has his ego. He wants to show people he’s back. He wants to win an NBA title to match the two he won in college.
“Last year was last year, and I’m just in my moment right now,” he said.
I told him I'll be keeping count of how many times he says that phrase this season. He smiled.
“Last year was last year,” he repeated.
Of course, Noah’s past is his inspiration now. All athletes say stuff like that, but you get the feeling Noah means it. Though gifted with genes from his tennis-playing father, Yannick, Noah still had to work himself into an All-Star.
Now he has to work himself back.
The past season, he played 67 games and shot a career-worst 44.5 percent while averaging 7.2 points and 9.6 rebounds, his worst numbers since his second season. Beyond the stat sheet, Noah just wasn’t himself. He couldn’t move right, and his mind was off.
“I feel like my teammates were really patient with me last year, and I appreciate them for that,” he said. “I just want to show them I’m capable of helping them. That’s all I can control.”
Noah’s minutes restrictions were the bane of Thibodeau’s existence the past season, but Noah was the one trying to play on one leg. He doesn’t like to talk about it, but the day-to-day struggle of making it to 67 games left him drained.
“It was a tough year, but you know what? I learned a lot from it,” Noah said. “Sometimes, you have to learn through adversity. It was tough to go out the way we went out with a great chance, with a great opportunity, and just not to be where I wanted to be on the court. It was very tough. I definitely feel like it’s helped me a lot in my workouts this summer.”
Noah's words have something behind them.
Since early July, Noah has been working out at the Peak Performance Project, a high-end training facility in Santa Barbara, California. He’ll stay until the first or second week of September. P3 is where Kyle Korver went some years ago to remake his body before his career renaissance.
Dozens of NBA players are listed as clients on P3’s website. Noah's trainer, Alex Perris, had him scheduled to go there before the past season ended.
“You get there the first day, and they put you in a bodysuit, put all these ping pong balls on you and make you jump and do all these basketball motions -- and you can see it in slow motion and see where your body kind of breaks down,” Noah said. “Nobody has perfect form. You can always work on something.”
According to the P3 website, Noah is talking about the “Motion Capture and Force Plate technology” that analyzes movements. According to the website, Noah then got a “personalized training program to correct biomechanical deficiencies and to optimize relevant athletic needs.”
According to Noah, “I’m just training really hard and just going to sleep at night.”
“It’s just very to the point, and there’s somebody there all the time correcting you, correcting your mechanics on how to train,” he said. “It’s very repetitive, but it also teaches you about your body and being more aware [of] where your weaknesses are and how to strengthen them.”
As for his surgically repaired knee, Noah said it’s in great shape. A year after surgery, his body is in a good place -- and so is his head.
"Injuries suck," he said to a group of reporters.
He met with new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg in California and, like his teammates, is eager to see the new democratic offense at work. As for his role playing with center Pau Gasol, Noah said he doesn’t know how Hoiberg will use him, but he should be able to run out to the wing again.
“I think that last year I wasn’t healthy, and I think that I feel like I want to go in healthy, and Fred will do what he wants to do,” he said. “Those aren’t things I can control. I just want to go in camp and be as ready as possible and go from there.”
With all the animosity from the front office and Thibodeau, Noah dealing with his own injury and a general lack of cohesion among his teammates, it seemed as if a black cloud hovered over the 2014-15 Bulls.
“You know what? Last year was a humbling time,” Noah said. “I know a lot of guys brought that into the summer, and let’s see how far that can take us.”
Before he met with the kids Monday and after the movie, Noah worked out with assistant coach Randy Brown at the Advocate Center. There are no off-days for him.
“It’s a fresh start,” he said. “I’m really excited about the opportunity and, most of all, going out there and proving myself again.”